Is Dolly Parton a secret philanthropist? The country superstar’s fans seem to think so after it was revealed she was involved in a number of charities without making it known to the public.
Some of her recent charitable actions include paying for the band uniforms of several Tennessee high schools over the years; purchasing a strip mall in Nashville using the royalties she earned from Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” to support the surrounding Black neighborhood in the late singer’s honor; and donating $1 million to research dedicated to creating the Moderna vaccine.
During an interview with The Associated Press, prior to receiving the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy on Thursday night, Parton said she doesn’t do any of it for recognition.
“I don’t do it for attention,” she said. “But look! I’m getting a lot of attention by doing it.”
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While she isn’t in it for the attention, Parton believes she received too much of it. She provides college scholarships through her Dollywood Foundation, helps people who have been affected by natural disasters and works to eradicate childhood illiteracy.
Although she does all of this, Parton thinks she is getting “paid more attention than maybe some others” that are doing more than she is, and she hopes that through seeing her good deeds, others will be inspired to also help others.
In her acceptance speech for the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, Parton admitted she doesn’t have a strategy for her donations, choosing to donate when she sees a need she feels she can fix.
“I just give from my heart,” she said. “I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will.”
Something Parton is especially invested in is inspiring a love of reading in children through her Imagination Library initiative. Upon request, the initiative sends a free book every month to children under 5 years old, averaging around 2 million books a month.
Parton started the initiative for a very personal reason — seeing how illiteracy negatively impacted someone she loved.
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“This actually started because my father could not read and write, and I saw how crippling that could be,” she said. “My dad was a very smart man. And I often wondered what he could have done had he been able to read and write. So that is the inspiration.”
That program continues to expand. And last month, the state of California partnered with Imagination Library to make the program available to the millions of children under 5 in the state.
“That is a big deal,” she said. “That’s a lot of children. And we’re so honored and proud to have all the communities that make that happen because I get a lot of glory for the work a whole lot of people are doing.”
Parton explains the only reason she accepts the attention surrounding her philanthropy is because it helps bring more attention to the Imagination Library, professing she is “proud to be the voice out there doing what I can to get more books into the hands of more children.”
Eric Isaacs, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science and one of the members of the medal selection committee, praised Parton for being a “tremendous example” of someone who understands how important it is to give back to their community.
“Everyone knows her music,” he said. “They might know Dollywood for entertainment, more broadly. But now they’re going to know her for her philanthropy, which I’m not sure they have before.”
While Parton has made her philanthropic work a top priority, earlier this year she released a novel with James Patterson, “Run, Rose, Run,” and filmed a Christmas movie with Willie Nelson, Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon for NBC titled “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.”
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She also will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Nov. 5, alongside Eminem, Lionel Richie and Pat Benatar, among others. Parton initially declined the offer, but has since changed her tune, saying she is “ready to rock” and that she has already written a new song for that ceremony in Los Angeles.
Parton does so much already, but is ready to do more. She has implemented the Care More initiative at her Dollywood Parks and Resorts, an effort which allows employees to take days off to engage in volunteer work at a nonprofit of their choice.
“I think it’s important for everyone to do their share to help their fellow man,” she said. “This world is so crazy. I don’t think we even know what we’re doing to each other and to this world.”
Parton says she hopes the day of service will let people realize that “when you help somebody, it helps them, but it can help you more.”
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“That’s what we should do as human beings,” she said. “I never quite understood why we have to let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings. I think it’s important from that standpoint just to feel like you’re doing your part, doing something decent and good and right.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.